REVIEW: Family affairs with the TSO

By Robert Bruce Smith

Though the Tupelo Symphony’s latest concert offering carried the deceptively bland suggestion of a “family affair,” those lucky enough to fill the Link Centre Concert Halll last Saturday night soon discovered just how exciting “family life” among three world-class musicians can be.

Bearing the exotic Russian-Uzbecki surname of Ioudenitch (you-DANE-itch) and consisting of Stanislav (the dashing pianist-father), Tatiana (the beautiful pianist-mother) and Maria (the winsome 15-year-old violinist daughter), the Ioudenitches’ joint and several musical performances gave Tupelo music-lovers a thrilling new slant on the term “family values.”

First, there was papa. Think fiery-fast virtuoso fingers schooled from childhood in the grand Russian tradition of Horowitz, Rachmaninoff, Sofronitsky, and Gilels; then guided to artistic maturity by some of Western Europe’s most distinguished musical mentors.
Next, imagine an Olympic artist/athlete in his 20s, ambitiously training and successfully performing in the world’s most demanding piano competitions, capped by an absolutely to-die-for Van Cliburn Gold Medal in 2001. And finally, picture a proud young husband, father, global concert figure, mentor to promising pianists, professor of music at Park University in Kansas City, and acclaimed international recording artist. This is Stanislav Ioudenitch.

His masterful solo performance of Ravel’s “Sonatine”, four Chopin waltzes, and Igor Stravinsky’s “Three Movement from Petrouchka” formed the evening’s first half.

After intermission, mama and papa played together – on one piano! A native of Saratov, on the Volga River, Tatiana Ioudenitch is also an award-winning Russian pianist and teacher of talented young musicians. Strolling onstage in a stunning rose-colored gown, she and Stanislav gave a remarkably sensitive performance of Franz Schubert’s incomparable (but rarely heard) “Fantasy in F Minor for Piano Four-Hands,” with its lyrical opening melody that reappears so hauntingly in the last movement.

Then it was Maria’s turn. The charming Ioudenitch daughter’s musical vehicle was Pablo de Sarasate’s famous “Zigeunerweise”(“Gypsy Life”), arranged by TSO music director Steven Byess for violin and string orchestra. More than anything else, seeing a young girl barely fifteen expertly toss off this show-stopping bravura masterpiece clearly indicated how phenomenally musical the Ioudneitch family truly is.

Next, Stanislav joined his daughter and TSO musicians in two fabulously jazzy, over-the-top concert tangos by the great Argentine master, Astor Piazzolla. For a virtuosic conclusion, Stanislav plus an instrumental combo further delighted the audience with a wildly jazzed-up arrangement (by Peter Nero) of the normally sedate 1920s tune, “Tea for Two.”

Spared from most of his regular conducting duties by the program’s unusual format, music director Byess assumed instead the role of congenial MC, suavely introducing the Ioudenitches and their various musical selections as the evening rolled along.

Unsung – though certainly not unheard – was the evening’s other star: the TSO’s mighty Steinway concert grand piano, purchased several years ago through private donation. Indeed, this grandly sonorous instrument received such a powerful and brilliant workout from the combined Ioudenitch fingers that at times smoke seemed literally to ascend from its steely strings!

The ever-generous Carpenter Foundation underwrote this marvelous performance, according to TSO executive director Margaret Anne Murphey. She smilingly added that if only there were more families like the Ioudenitches, music would fill the world like delicious Champagne.

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